MFL MarMac's new Caring Closet is a resource for those in need

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A new “Caring Closet” at MFL MarMac High School is serving as a resource for students in need of school supplies, food, clothing and personal care items. Students Riley Moreland, Eva Budde, Mya Nelson and Austin Schlee stand with paraprofessional and project organizer Casey Evanson in the space, which they’ve made to resemble a store. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

The Caring Closet is located in a former storage area near the old wrestling room, off the school cafeteria. While some donations have come in from outside the school, items have been largely funded and supplied by students and staff.

A bulletin board at the Caring Closet contains community resources for students. There are a lot of kids, especially in the high school, who are independent and living on their own, so they don’t know what resources to reach out to, said Casey Evanson.

Eva Budde created this logo for the Caring Closet. It will be painted on a wall in the new space.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

 

A new “Caring Closet” at MFL MarMac High School is serving as a resource for students in need of school supplies, food, clothing and personal care items.

 

Paraprofessional Casey Evanson launched the project and enlisted several students to bring it to fruition.

 

“There’s a lot of need within our community and our school district. But everyone thinks poorly of needing a hand out. There are a lot of kids too, especially in the high school, who are independent and living on their own, so they don’t know what resources to reach out to and how to get those things,” Evanson explained. 

 

She hoped creating a storefront atmosphere would ease some of the stigma. Students can visit the Caring Closet independently and grab what they need, no judgment and no questions asked. “Just like if they were shopping at a store, they can pick up clothes they need, they can get groceries, personal hygiene items,” Evanson added.

 

Senior Mya Nelson, who is Evanson’s TA, helped start the Caring Closet, sorting and organizing inventory since January. Fellow senior Riley Moreland joined the effort as a passion project through MFL MarMac’s new MORE authentic learning program, and brought classmate Eva Budde on board to design a Caring Closet logo and paint it on a wall in the new space. Junior Austin Schlee built shelves and storage places for food and clothing items. Others in his wood tech class built hangers and shelves to better organize the whole room.

 

The Caring Closet is located in a former storage area near the old wrestling room, off the school cafeteria.

 

“It started in one room, but no one wanted to respect what we wanted to do, so we ended up going to anther room that was completely trashed and full of junk. We were like, ‘How in the heck are we going to make this happen?’” recalled Moreland. “But everybody helped. Once we got our own space and started to clean it up, it was a relief.”

 

“We painted and it looks like a completely different room now,” shared Evanson.

 

Moreland called the space dignified, yet cute and comfortable. A pop-up dressing room courtesy of Prairie Farms and carpet from Knockel’s adds to the atmosphere.

 

“It’s a warm room to walk into versus sneak over here and grab this,” she mentioned.

 

That feeling was one Schlee hoped to convey when creating the shelving.

 

“A lot of people saw that room as the football equipment room, where we’ve stored stuff we haven’t used in a really long time. Now, it makes me feel nice because they’ll look at that room and see it’s more user friendly and a more inviting room,” he said.

 

While some donations have come in from outside the school, Evanson said the Caring Closet has been largely funded by students and staff.

 

“We went through and made an inventory and needs list and I sent it to all the staff in the school. We had a lot of items fulfilled within a week or so,” she noted. “We’re hoping to have it even more community driven, where people are able to donate. We can put a needs list out there that people would be able to fulfill.”

 

Watching others give has been heartwarming for Moreland.

 

“I’ve always known there are people who are less fortunate, and we’ve always tried to help them. That’s just how our school is. But seeing people donate to the Closet who already, themselves, don’t have much, is pretty eye opening,” she said. “And there have been people who you didn’t know were so invested in the school step up and give tons of stuff, expensive products.”

 

When the new school year starts, school supplies and water bottles will be handy items to have, Evanson said.

 

Current food items are non-perishable. Many are snacks—foods that don’t take much prep work for students to make. Personal care and hygiene items are available, as are new and gently used clothing and shoes.

 

“Clothing-wise, we have anything and everything you could think of: dress clothing, everyday clothing, casuals, under garments are new items,” said Evanson. “I want people to be like, ‘Today, this is what I need. I’m hungry and I can’t focus on the test I need to do. I’m going to run up and get a granola bar. Or I have something fancy coming up and don’t have the money to buy a dress, but I still want to feel beautiful that day.’ Awesome, come up and get a dress and feel good about yourself and have fun.”

 

Added Moreland, “If I see something cute, I’ll take something and put two things back, then tell my friends about it. It’s open to anybody.”

 

“I got this sweatshirt from up there,” quipped Budde, tugging on the top she was wearing. “It doesn’t need to be for those less fortunate. It can be for those who just want a snack or new outfit.”

 

Organizers keep an inventory of what’s been utilized, so items can be replenished. The project operates on the honor system, and Evanson expects students to be respectful, take what they need and be mindful of others in need.

 

The Caring Closet has been officially open for around two weeks. As of last Tuesday, Evanson said 38 people had utilized it that week alone.

 

“It’s being used, and that’s an awesome feeling,” she remarked.

 

Evanson and her student partners feel more awareness is necessary, though. It starts by lessening the stigma and negative connotations.

 

“I have posters in all the bathrooms throughout the school saying, ‘If you are in need of help, there’s nothing wrong. Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes. There’s no shame in it,’” Evanson said. “You aren’t your situation. Your situation doesn’t control you. It’s just where you’re at in the moment, and you can move past this. It’s not so much a hand out but a hand up.”

 

“I hate that stigma,” she continued. “Everyone has a rough patch, and who are we to judge what your rough patch is and whether it’s worthy or not to get things. I want the school and the students and the community to have that same vibe, same feeling, and continue to move forward.” 

 

Budde said she’s always seen a need for Caring Closet services. She’s prided herself on being the type of kid who doesn’t always have a lot, but is willing to help others.

 

“I’ve always carried something someone could need throughout the day in my backpack. Anything I can do to help progress this movement of no stigmatism against needing help, I happily will,” she reflected. “Anyone who’s involved in this project has a responsibility to get the word out there of, ‘Hey, this is a thing. It’s OK to get stuff. Please do.’” 

 

The creation of the Caring Closet has been surprising to some people, according to Moreland.

 

“Everybody’s been, ‘Why would you be doing that?’ They don’t understand. Then they see it,” she explained. “We had kids up there helping this morning who were like, ‘What is this? I can just take food?’ It seems like a crime for them to help themselves, when really that’s what we want everyone to do.”

 

For Moreland, Budde and Nelson, who are seniors, it feels good to leave behind a legacy of compassion.

 

“When I grew up, there was none of that. Throughout middle school, there were days where I would just be hungry and I couldn’t focus, yet I pushed myself. Having a resource for kids to go and get a new pair of pants because they are covered in mud from the ag class, or grab a new shirt because they have a hole in the back of theirs, it makes me feel like this school is becoming more inclusive and more accepting,” shared Budde.

 

“Our society, as a whole, is not very nice and accepting,” Moreland added. “To have something where someone can feel safe and come in and get what they need—there are a lot of nice products up there that make you feel like a normal high school girl. You can put makeup on and do whatever you want.  I want everyone to feel comfortable and like everybody else, not lesser than because they can’t afford a nice hair product. It’s heartwarming and makes you feel like you accomplished something.”

 

Nelson agreed.

 

“Going through the whole process of it, knowing someone’s going to get a meal for today, or helping get better hygiene or clothes if they need it. We helped them get that,” she said. “I feel better about myself.”

 

Schlee, a junior who will watch the fruits of their labor grow next year, plans to stay involved.

 

“I enjoy helping out the school any way I can. I love hard labor, working with my hands and being able to build something that can be used every single day,” he said. “I’m positive I’ll keep building stuff for that room.”

 

Evanson is excited to watch the Caring Closet grow too—not only physically, but through its impact on others.

 

“I want to have students support each other and be able to have this be even more community and school driven,” she stated. “Once your eyes are open to this, you can’t turn away from it. These are compassionate students we have, and they’re going to go out into the world and continue that—it goes beyond just our school. Wherever life takes you, you’ll still have that empathy and compassion for other people and understanding of different situations.”

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